While teaching philosophy as a course in general education (so not to students who are majoring or minoring in philosophy), I have often experienced a situation in which the responsibility for the students who were in front of me conflicted with the responsibility I felt toward my own field of study. If I really bring down to earth the philosophy of Plato, Descartes, or Kierkegaard, somehow it feels that I betray these philosophers, that I diminish them to something that they are not. Even more, it feels as if I betray my field. If, on the contrary, I speak of the same philosophers as I think one ought to speak of them if one were to remain faithful to them, students are completely lost and experience nothing of the beauty of a thinker. So I often say things about philosophers that I would never utter in the company of my peers, because these claims would demonstrate a lack of scholarly accuracy.
So what am I to do, divided so between these two responsibilities?
The answer may be connected with how we understand truth, whether it is always expressed in a statement or whether it is born in the relationship between two human beings. At times, to be truthful to another human being one needs to avoid “true statements.” Suppose my son were three years old and he would ask me how he got into his mom’s belly. If I told him the truth, I would completely misunderstand the relationship I have with him. And I would destroy his soul. Being loyal to the truth of our relationship, I must tell him a different story. I would do so because I would be focused on him, on the person that is presented to me at a certain moment, and not on an “object,” the “truth about the engendering of children.” I would be focused on his becoming, on his wellness, and on the possibility of giving birth to Truth (Beauty) in our midst.
I think education works the same way. If I am “true” to philosophy, then I lose both philosophy and my students. Being “true” to philosophy, I would actually be true to myself. To an extent, I would worship me while believing I worship philosophy–I would be overwhelmed, completely structured by my idolatrous understanding of ideas. But philosophy in education is always focused on good life–and on the good life of another. It is the good life of the one who is presented before me as someone on the road of his or her perfection.
Plato would agree that “philosophy” can become at times, with a Romanian expression, a massage to a wooden leg. It may be professional, it may look good, but it would do nothing. But genuine philosophy is always directed toward good life–and not my life, but the life of the one who is presented to me as promise.
In fact, being faithful to the needs of others (but the needs of others who are on the way toward their perfection), one is faithful to philo-sophia as well, even if it may not look like it on first sight.
P.S. Philosophy: the plane tree in the desert that gives shade so that we can rest and continue our road toward us (see Plato’s Phaedrus).